Lunch with Mark Avery

I headed across the country from my base in Wiltshire yesterday morning to interview Dr Mark Avery, one of the Directors of the recently-launched Wild Justice.

A visibly non-stressed Mark Avery ponders another tricky question? Possibly, though probably not…

If you’ve not heard of Wild Justice (how about we just call it WJ for the next few paragraphs), it’s a not-for-profit company launched by Mark, Chris Packham, and Ruth Tingay in February this year, with the aim of ‘taking legal cases on behalf of wildlife against public bodies where they are failing to protect species and/or habitats’. Legal action will be funded by public donations and crowdfunding appeals.

On Friday last week (15th March) the WJ team launched their first appeal to raise funds to challenge the casual killing of birds under the abysmal piece of (to quote Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations RSPB Scotland in this podcast from last month) ‘light touch’ legislation known as the General Licence.

And it’s all going rather well!

When I left home at 08:30 the appeal (which needs to collect the rather chunky sum of £36,000!) had raised around £20,000 – in little more than a weekend! By the time I got to Mark at about midday that figure had jumped to more than £26,000 – thanks to an anonymous donation of £5000! (And no, Mark doesn’t know who the mystery benefactor is but to whoever he/she is he says thanks…and actually so do I because along with 900 or so other folk who’ve chipped in everything from a fiver upwards I really want this challenge to go ahead, and a donation like that makes it even more likely to happen).

Incidentally, by that evening it had jumped again….

Anyhow, the upshot of all this generosity is that I found Mark in a more relaxed mood than might have been the case had WJ launched to a subdued mumbling rather than an undeniably positive whooping. Which is fair enough when you put your conservation cred on the line like he, Ruth, and Chris had just done.

I always enjoy having a good chat with Mark by the way, especially when the pressures of Hen Harrier Day, a book launch, a legal challenge to brood meddling etc are essentially off his shoulders. We both know that he is a lot smarter than me (which he’s kind enough not to point out) but that’s never stopped the conversation from flowing.

As a pre-amble to the ‘serious’ interview stuff, we headed out into his back garden. Mark (and you’ll know this if you’ve spent any time with him) has a mischievous sense of humour (put him in a room with Ruth Tingay and it all turns a bit sixth-form rather quickly) and a few mild indiscretions were shared over a rather nice bottle of red (is there anyone Mark doesn’t know from decades spent in conservation? I’ve not found his limits yet.). Even the weather had perked up enough to tempt out a couple of Brimstones, while Red Kites circled slowly overhead. It was a very good morning.

We covered a fair bit of ground (including potential book ideas, Tengmalm’s Owls [have I told you my Spurn Obs/Barry Spence story? Grrr], local ornithology, pragmatism vs dogmatism vs life experiences [the wine may have influenced that a little]) before heading in for a vegan lunch with homemade bread. Very tasty, thanks for making the effort Mark.

Then, on to a pot of coffee and the interview.

Now while I don’t kid myself that my style of interviewing is all that much different to anyone else’s (though the RSPB’s Jeff Knott did say on Twitter that I was ‘unique in air quotes’ recently which may or may not be a good thing), I am always interested in learning the backstory, asking for the information that’s not on the individual’s/organisation’s website (rather than just repeating what a quick Google search would tell us all anyway).

So, I started by asking Mark whether I was correct in thinking that the idea for WJ had developed during the collation of the superb (you’ve not downloaded it yet? Seriously, you must) A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife which Mark, Ruth, and Chris had all been heavily involved in writing.

Was I right*? Well, I’ll be editing the recording today and if you’re interested you can find out soon. I’ll post the link here and in the column to the right.

In the meantime if you’d like to help Wild Justice challenge the casual killing of birds head on over to CrowdJustice.

*Okay, let’s be upfront – the answer is sort of…